Team Sports Appear To Prevent Depression Development In Boys, Study Suggests

A recent study conducted by U.S. university professors examined the effects of children’s engagement in team sports on their brain’s hippocampal volumes. The research found clues that show how exercise affects children’s moods and raised the possibility that gender plays a significant role in assessing the antidepressant effects of exercise in children.

Several studies have confirmed that adult depression causes the brain’s hippocampus area to shrink, reported Science Daily. There was, however, insufficient data proving that similar conditions occur in children who suffer from depression. Thus, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis analyzed 4,190 boys, aged nine to 11, who engaged in team sports and analyzed the changes to their hippocampus volumes. The goal of the study was to determine whether the recurring changes caused antidepressant effects.

The study used a nationwide sample from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study. The subjects underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging scans to measure the changes in bilateral hippocampal volumes as they engaged in team sports. Their parents also indicated the children's depression symptoms through questionnaires.

According to lead author Lisa Gorham, involvement in sports resulted in greater hippocampal volumes in both boys and girls. Only the boys, however, were found to acquire the antidepressant effects.

They also found that engagement in team sports reduced depression in boys compared to those who were more engaged in non-sport activities such as art and music. Consequently, senior author Deanna Barch claimed they raised a possibility that social interaction in team sports may contribute to reducing the development of depression.

Similar studies involving adults proved that exercise has a positive impact on depression but their research is the first to show its effects on children. Gorham added that a combination of exercise and social support may also be a possible preventive measure in treating depression among young people.

The researchers, however, stressed that their findings were correlational. They suggested that these children were less likely to develop depression due to their active participation in team sports, or depressed children are less likely to engage in sports making their hippocampal volume smaller than those who do. Thus, they concluded that further research is still required to ascertain the antidepressant effects of team sports in boys.